During my first year at university, someone calling themselves “The Pink Panther” wrote a letter in the campus magazine. I don’t remember the details, but it was about homosexuality and the church – a pretty radical topic all those years ago, when the the churches’ – and secular society’s – attitudes were much more fixed than they may seem to be today. My reaction was to send a response to the next issue – a knee-jerk conservative reaction worthy of the most Southern of Southern Baptists. Basically I wrote, “Do what you like behind closed doors, just leave my religion out of it!” It was judgemental, dismissive, uncaring and unchristian, and probably revealed more of my own insecurity than anything else. But later on I was introduced to the Pink Panther, and was pretty embarrassed. Attacking someone in the letters column is one thing – meeting them face to face is something else. It turned out he was not a faceless representative for sinful immorality, but a living, breathing person with actual feelings … Even so, I’m not sure I ever specifically apologised for that first letter, so before I write any more – Pink, I’m sorry. Truly. That letter should never have been written, and I’m so grateful to you for apparently forgiving me before I even asked. These days, the climate has changed, and society as a whole – at least in the West – is more tolerant of same-sex relationships. Some Christians have concluded that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality after all, and that the Church has been wrong all these years, as it once was wrong about slavery. Many are unsure, and no longer know what to think. The majority, certainly in a global perspective, are still of the opinion that same-sex relationships are contrary to God’s will. I’m not going to get into that debate here. What I want to do instead is to focus on something that ought to be common for all Christians, no matter what stance they take on any particular issue. And that is simply that Christians have a duty to care:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22,37-39)
Now, loving someone doesn’t mean approving of all their actions or life-choices. I’m sure my children at some stage in their lives are going to make choices I disagree with, and I dare say I’ll tell them so. But I’ll love them all the same, and I hope they will always know that. ‘Love’ in the Bible isn’t really about feelings, anyway. It’s about showing people good-will. About helping them when they need it. About having respect for them as people and wishing them well:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13,4-7)
In the words of Bob Goff, biblical love isn’t a feeling, it’s an action: “Love does”. So whatever the Bible teaches or doesn’t teach about same-sex relationships, it teaches us that as Christians we are supposed to be caring, sensitive and patient – all the things my letter to the Pink Panther were not. And that should have consequences – I say it again – for all Christians, no matter which ‘side’ of the debate they are on. So when we hear about gays and lesbians being harrassed, persecuted and criminalised, by governments or anyone else, Christians should be raising their voices to protest. When we hear our fellow-Christians – even church leaders – condoning or even encouraging aggression or violence against gays and lesbians, we should be taking them to one side to tell them, as someone should have told me at university, that that is not the way. That is not what Christ would have done. That is not what God wants. So why don’t we hear more about the church standing up for gay rights? I think one reason is that people are worried about their own integrity. They are worried that if they speak out on behalf of gays, people will assume that they’ve ‘changed sides’. This issue has become so polarised that if you’re not clearly ‘against’, then you must be ‘for’. People don’t want to be seen as supporting something that they’re against, so they end up saying nothing, even when the evil they are not talking about far outweighs any qualms they may have about sexual morality. Jesus had no problems of that kind – or if he did then he ignored them. Jesus was the World’s most perfect man – and yet he was criticised for associating with swindlers and prostitutes, and was executed as a criminal between two thieves. Apparently he wasn’t worried that anyone might be confused about which “side” he was on. His supporters were in no doubt that he was on the side of morality and obeying God – but also on the side of compassion and loving his neighbour. . He didn’t seem to see any contradiction in that. Neither should we. We can continue the discussion about biblical ethics and what is or isn’t God’s will: But ‘Love your neighbour’ doesn’t have sides.